"Il Stagione di Bollito Misto di Bue Grasso," or in English as the title states, "The Season Boiled Mixed Fat Oxen," ladies and gentlemen, it is that time of year… and this past December 2010 marked 100 years celebrating the festival in Carrú (near Barolo) dedicated to this animal and dish. I was lucky and unlucky enough to take part…
What is BOLLITO you ask, and then very quickly it comes to mind, and exactly what is a FAT OXEN. Both are 100 point, perfectly valid questions. Here it is:
(The traditional, ‘official’ recipe)
- 7 Pieces or ‘cuts’ of Lean meat; Breast, Brisket, Thigh, Shank Muscle, Shoulder, Flank, and another shoulder cut called ‘Priests hat’. These are approximate because the cuts and butchering is completely different here in Italy compared to the names and cuts we are used to in the USA.
- 7 Pieces of Ammennicoli (which means the less valuable parts) which are; tongue, cross cut of the head with the nose, tail, hoof, rotallato (rolled parts), gallina, and cotechino (which is a very fatty sausage made with the rest of the parts)
- 7 Sauces or bagnetti (baths) to dip meat in; rustic Green Sauce (base of anchovies, olive oil, garlic, capers, vinegar and parsley), rich Green Sauce (the same as the rustic recipe with the addition of hard boiled eggs), red sauce, mustard, honey sauce, cugna (made with grape must, figs, quince, pears, cinnamon, cloves and hazelnuts), cren (horseradish sauce).
Bue Grasso: This is the ‘work’ oxen of Piedmont. We say work oxen because at one time that is what they were used for, as well as for meat and milk. The Bue Grasso a pure white cow that is of the ‘Piedmont race’. These animals are prized and appreciated not only for their size, muscles and beauty, but of course the incredible meat they produce. Hence, born the ‘Bollito Misto’ from the Bue Grasso.
This is great you say, and makes sense… using this prized ‘Bue’ to make this dish, where every part of the animal is utilized. December is the month when the animals are all butchered, and a plate of warm boiled meat in the cold winter is a perfect match, hence born this ‘fair’ of the Bue Grasso. The fair itself (born in Carrú) is essentially a market where the animals are auctioned off, and win prizes in various categories (size, beauty, ect.). Then after this market, everyone sits down to eat a big meal of ‘Bollito’. Sounds cute right. Well the catch is that the fun all starts at 5:30AM!! So I dragged myself out of bed, grabbed my camera, and told myself it was going to be worth it.
The animals were in fact extremely impressive, and the energy was unreal. Everyone huddled and crowded inside this open-air market side by side with these gi-normous beasts (with no barrier between them and us), one of which, every 5 minutes, would ‘panic’ (and rightly so, it was early for them too). The handler of that particular Bue would yell and wave his arms, and the entire crowd would go screaming for cover. The handler would then calm down the Bue by hitting him in the head with a small stick (doesn’t that sound calming), and everyone slowly trickles back into center of the market, only for the same thing to happen again with another animal and another mass panic.
Did I mention ‘OPEN AIR’ market. Yup, this was all going on before sunrise on the coldest day we had seen yet. So before 8:00 I had run for my life at least 10 times, could no longer feel my hands, nose or toes, and was at the same time considering adoption of a ‘Bue’ because they are such stunningly beautiful animals.
Then the best part, we decide that we have had enough, and want to save our exposed faces from frost bite, and our own lives from being trampled by Bue and go to ‘lunch’ at a famous restaurant downtown Carrú. The place was packed. I looked at my watch, 8:30AM. At the table next to me they are finishing up … they arrived around 6:30AM to start eating ‘carne cruda’ (raw meat) and bollito misto, and were now on dessert, coffee and of course grappa. It was almost unbelievable. The crowd however was an enthusiastic one; happy, singing and drunk, it was surreal. For them this ‘Bollito Breakfast’ has been going on for 100 years, and was all perfectly normal.
We decided, if you can’t beat ‘em… well… you know the rest. We ordered a bottle of Barabba, and each one of us had the fixed menu of three courses of ‘Bue’ prepared in three ways; raw, with pasta, and then of course the famous Bollito. There was a line out the door of freezing people waiting to eat, and everyone was behaving as if it were 8:30 or 9:00pm AT NIGHT. By 10:00AM we had finished, were full and slightly ‘buzzed’ ourselves, paid the bill and piled back into the car to head home. I was collapsed in bed by 11:00AM, and was somewhat traumatized by this event for the rest of the week.
Previous to this Bollito Breakfast, we did a dinner with Bue Grasso and a verticle of Barabba (Fabrizio’s top Barbera), which was MUCH more my style; eating dinner at night rather than the morning that is. Needless to say we hope to repeat the Iuli Bue Grasso dinner, but I will NOT be attending the 101st annual festival of the Bue Grasso at Carrú.
All of this to say, a great food and wine pairing; Bollito Misto and Iuli Barabba!